Penske Food Drive Benefits Pennsylvania Veterans
The Paul R. Gordon Veteran Social Center of Berks County in Reading, Pennsylvania, gives at-risk veterans a place to find fellowship and receive much-needed assistance.
Yet, it was the center's turn to be on the receiving end as Penske associates recently donated nearly 100 bags of food for veterans in need and their families.
“It is imperative for us to celebrate veterans, be grateful to them and always include them as contributing members of our society,” said Carie Seymour, Penske’s director of field HR and diversity and inclusion, who leads the community service committee for PWN. “They have gone through hardships that we have never known.”
Veterans Making a Difference
The center is operated by Liz and Doug Graybill, both veterans in their own right.
Liz served for 23 years in the Army and Doug, her husband, served in the Marine Corps. Both have seen first-hand the struggles faced by homeless veterans.
For years, the couple helped homeless veterans with whatever they could – tents, tarps, food – before creating the non-profit Veterans Making A Difference with a mission to help low income and at-risk veterans and their families.
“It blows my mind the need out there,” said Doug Graybill. “It’s one sad story after another.”
“We have always helped with food, toiletries, personal care items, clothing, and we also help with rent, security deposit, gas cards, and utility bills. We have paid for dentures, veterans’ funerals – whatever we can do to help the veteran and the families,” said Liz Graybill.
But, it soon became clear that they need a place where veterans could find comfort in the fellowship of other veterans.
“Like Doug, my husband, said, ‘Loneliness is loneliness.’ It doesn’t matter your financial status,” Liz said. “This is a place where all veterans can come hang out. Young, old, rich, poor, successful or struggling, male or female, combat or peacetime, we all speak the same language.
“This is a place where it is safe for them to open up. We are not judging them. It gives them a place to call their own.”
On the last Saturday of each month, the center operates a veterans-certified food pantry through the Greater Berks Food Bank. The rest of the month, the center provides emergency food assistance to veterans in need.
Although the center is not a soup kitchen, the Graybills have invited the community to prepare a meal and bring it for the veterans. “It gives the veterans another reason to come out and socialize, and it gives the community a reason to thank the veterans, so we want community involvement,” Liz said.
People Helping People
For some time, the PWN has been actively seeking to become engaged in a local community event that supports veterans. The veterans center was a natural fit.
The call went out for donations in late November at Penske’s corporate office in suburban Reading, and the response from the company’s generous associates was swift and overwhelming, Seymour said.
“Penske associates are proud to represent Penske when the company commits to helping those in need,” Seymour said.
On the day of the distribution, a group of Penske associates was also on hand with their own families – including children in tow – to serve coffee and donuts provided by the company to the veterans while they waited for their donation bags to be prepared.
In addition to pantry staples such as soups, canned vegetables, pasta sauce and rice, the bags also contained bread and non-perishables, such as meat, as well as personal care items and a warm blanket.
Cynthia Camilo, a mother of five who served in the Air Force as an information manager from 2003 to 2008, said she appreciates the center and the food distribution. “This really helps out,” she said.
Robert Graeff, a Navy veteran, was touched that so many children were on hand to serve coffee refills. “Seeing the kids puts a smile on your face,” he said. “They know what this is all about.”
Among the Penske associates on hand to help was Danielle Cummings, an accountant in the Operational Accounting department.
Cummings, a veteran of the Army National Guard, is one of Penske’s 1,700 Penske military veterans. When the call went out, Cummings said she was eager to participate in the event.
“It feels amazing to be here to help,” she said. “It is great to give back and make a difference.”
By Bernie Mixon